Replacing red and processed meat in our diet

6 June 2023

Steak Out The Listner Cover May 2023

Food production accounts for 26% of greenhouse gas emissions globally, with the production of red meat being the single largest food source of emissions. Excess consumption of red and processed meat is associated with the development of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

A research paper from Healthier Lives researchers Andrew Reynolds, Cristina Cleghorn, Cliona Ni Mhurchu and medical student Zi-Yi Kok examined five scenarios that replaced some (or all) red and processed meat in the New Zealand diet with other protein-rich foods. Modelling techniques were used to investigate the potential effect of each of these scenarios on the following outcomes:

  • the health of New Zealanders
  • equity of health outcomes for Māori
  • greenhouse gas emissions
  • costs to the health system, and
  • grocery costs for individuals.

When compared with current red and processed meat intakes in New Zealand, all five scenarios offered substantial gains. Replacing red meat with minimally-processed plant-based foods, such as legumes (e.g. kidney beans and lentils), showed the greatest potential benefits for all the outcomes considered. While all New Zealanders would benefit, Māori health gains would be 1.6 to 2.3 times greater than those of non-Māori, which would help to narrow the current life expectancy gap in Aotearoa.

This study was featured in an article by journalist Niki Bezzant in The Listener magazine (May 20-26, 2023). Its findings confirm and extend current dietary advice to reduce red and processed meat intake (current Heart Foundation recommendations are to eat less than 50g per day), and to consume minimally-processed rather than ultra-processed foods.

Read The Listener article.

View our 2019-24 Research Strategy

He Pikinga Waiora Research Findings Brief

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